Help for secondary trauma
October 29, 2019 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me cope with a short- to medium-term stressful situation as I wait for professional help. Content warning for suicide attempt by friend and related stuff below the fold.

Yesterday I was out of town visiting a friend and had a walk with them before I said goodbye and took a longish train ride home. During the walk, my friend confessed to feeling suicidal but insisted they could not tell their therapist about it. I begged them to try to get help and said goodbye. A few hours later they stabbed themselves (and needed surgery) but should have a complete physical recovery eventually.

I dunno if I am feeling secondary trauma or not, but I do know this event hasn't improved my own chronic depression or anxiety. (Note: I have zero desire to harm myself.) Tomorrow I will see a nurse at my drop-in ADHD clinic and schedule a time to see a psychiatrist. In the meantime, I am alone and filled with worries about my friend and about potential future repercussions for our mutual friends/family members.

I have deadlines for clients and was able to do work today but not much. I am going to a movie tonight, and I have a handicraft group Thursday night. Otherwise I am alone with my brain, a scary place indeed. If you have been in a similar situation, what helped you make it through those initial Holy Fuck days?

Like, is just curling up in a ball and weeping for awhile a useful strategy? I know that ignoring my feelings is a bad idea but in the past, courtesy of black-and-white thinking, I sometimes got stuck thinking unhelpful things such as, "everything will suck forever," which I know is not true. My friend's situation feels extremely bleak to me based on what I know about them and their family. Advice on coping would be much appreciated.
posted by Bella Donna to Health & Fitness (6 answers total)
You should absolutely curl up in a ball and weep for a while. Realizing that everything won't suck forever comes after curling up and weeping. Trust your future self to pick herself up again and get herself to that realization when she's ready, and feel how you feel now.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:23 AM on October 29, 2019 [12 favorites]

I like the curl up and cry option because (for most people) it's neurochemically productive - the big feels, the actual crying, the self-soothing of the curling up/nesting. When it's this kind of "something awful happened near me but not at me or to me" situation, I remind myself that part of my reaction is ancient and primal: it's scary. It's almost childishly simple, a bad thing happened and it scared me, but it's true. The body takes this stuff in as danger, the brain is overwhelmed with sympathy, empathy, horror, fear. It is upsetting, and actually physically being upset for a bit is a good way to help process that.

Along with that, make sure you hydrate and get extra rest.

Whatever's going to happen as far as their family consequences is not in your control. You can spend a small amount of time deciding what the boundaries of your support should be for everyone involved, but you can't let them all live in your head - which is why getting those boundaries in place is important.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:48 AM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also, do you have friends who are further from the situation who you can call on for support? Mental health professionals are great, but it's also really nice to have someone in your daily life who Knows and Gets It who you can call up to come sit with you and watch TV, or ask for help getting chores done when you're overwhelmed, or whatever practical thing you need.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:57 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Self-soothing care for the natural physical repercussions of such a traumatic shock may be helpful, like hot tea, a warm blanket, fuzzy socks. How would you comfort someone who has experienced what you have just been through? If you can call on your compassionate expertise for others and redirect it towards yourself, that may help guide your self-care strategies.
posted by katra at 10:55 AM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would add that, until you see your therapist, it’s OK to tell someone about this, in the interests of your own mental health. It’s easy to feel that these things must remain a Big Secret in order to respect your friend’s privacy. But you have needs too, and telling someone what happened can be really helpful. The ideal, obviously, would be someone who doesn’t know them, or knows them only distantly. Failing that, anyone you can trust to be discreet. Something this massive is very hard to deal with in your own head.
posted by penguin pie at 3:15 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I notice some apprehension in your words, and I just want to validate you that yes, this is traumatic. you're allowed to grieve, for the sense of security you used to have, and for the relationship between you two that's now changed in some primal way. Things are going to suffer, but to get through it you have to go through it. Feel your feelings, be sad, cry, ask for comfort from people.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Where should we hole up for Christmas?   |   Tapestry mystery Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments